NEWS 2010


April 2010

30 Apr 2010. Other carnivores. During the past few days several other carnivores, including a Cape Fox and two male cheetahs, were observed in the Hoanib River.

30 Apr 2010. More on Xpl-44. A detailed spoor re-construction at the place where the Hoaruseb male (Leonardo) was shot, revealed new information and a better understanding of the sequence of events. The hypothesis mentioned yesterday, that the lion may have been baited and attracted with sound playbacks, can now be ruled out. It appears that the hunters came across Xpl-44 by chance. Lionesses of the Hoanib Pride ("Bianca" & co.) killed an oryx on the north-facing slope of a mountain during the night of 19 Apr 2010. It is likely that Xpl-44 heard the commotion and moved rapidly down a long valley to join the lionesses on the kill. Xpl-44 then dragged the oryx carcass for 775 metres to a small cave (see photos below).

The drag trail from where the oryx was killed to the cave (circle)
The cave where Xpl-44 was shot

The drag trail left distinct markings in the soft soil and it crossed the main track from Okongwe to Giribis. The spoor reconstruction suggests that the hunters spotted the trail and located Xpl-44 in the cave with the oryx carcass. The evidence also suggests that Xpl-44 was shot from a vehicle at a distance of <100 metres, that the shot was accurate and that he died at the cave. The fact that Xpl-44 was habituated to vehicles - tourism vehicles that regularly approached and viewed him in the Hoaruseb River - made him vulnerable and he was shot with relative ease. An investigation into the incident, involving the Namibian Ministry of Environment & Tourism, the relevant communal conservancies, the hunting fraternities and several NGO's is in motion.

The drag marks crossing the track between Okongwe & Giribis

29 Apr 2010. Hoaruseb male. An accurate real-time animation of the last seven days of Xpl-44's life (below) reveals the unfortunate and regrettable circumstances under which he was shot. For the past three years Xpl-44 "Leonardo" lived inside the Purros Conservancy (see red lines on left of map, depicting the Minimum Convex Polygon & Spider Analysis of his home range). The boundary between the Purros and Sesfontein Conservancies is presented by the white lines. Click on the PLAY button to start the animation (which runs at 5 seconds per day) and the movements of Xpl-44 is represented by the blue dot. During the night of the 19th April 2010 (19/4 pm) Xpl-44 moved rapidly south, into the Sesfontein Conservancy, to a bait. The speed and directness of his movements suggests that he might have been called by sound playbacks. He remain at the bait until the morning of 21 April 2010. The mortality sensor inside his satellite GPS collar was activated later in the day, and it is estimated that he was shot between 07 - 09h00 (subject to error). By 14h00 the satellite collar was transmitting it's position from a hunting camp 6 km north-east of Sesfontein.

27 Apr 2010. Xpl-5 & Aub lions. The Aub Pride was located on the water-divide north of Aub Canyon. It was amazing to observe Xpl-5 ("the Queen Mother"). She is now 18.3 years old and still in good condition (middle photo - lion on right). The group consisted of at least nine individuals.

26 Apr 2010. Hoaruseb male shot. In sharp contrast with the outstanding conservation achievements made in the Purros Conservancy in relation to lions over the past three years (such as the acceptance of the Purros community towards the lions, their tolerance of the livestock losses at the end of 2009 and their efforts to protect the Hoaruseb lions because of the high tourism value of the lions), the Hoaruseb male (Xpl-44 or "Leonardo") was shot for trophy hunting in the Sesfontein Conservancy. Xpl-44 was marked with a satellite GPS collar on 23 Mar 2010 (photo - bottom left). He moved beyond the imaginary boundary of the Purros Conservancy on 21 Apr 2010 (into the Sesfontein Conservancy) and was shot in the southern section of the Okongwe area (red dots on left side of map - upper left photo). The satellite collar then moved rapidly to a hunting camp near Sesfontein, where it remained stationary (red dots on right side of map). This development is a blow, not only to community-based conservation in Purros, but also to tourism in the region and to the lion population. The continuous shooting of adult males is unsustainable.

26 Apr 2010. Lioness with damaged collar. After the darting of Xpl-20 at Hobatere, a lioness (Wpl-25, originally marked in western Etosha) was spotted with a badly torn radio collar. The lioness was immobilised and her collar replaced. Photo bottom right by Shawn Braine.

Steve & Louise Braine of Hobatere Lodge are thanked for their ongoing support of the Desert Lion Project.

24 Apr 2010. Dart Xpl-20. One of two male (Xpl-20) that dispersed from the desert population to Etosha in 2005 was immobilised and fitted with a new GPS radio collar.

Xpl-20 was born at Aub Canyon in Aug 2000. With his brother (Xpl-19), they utilised an area of 2,457 km^2 up until May 2005 (top left map). They then dispersed and settled permanently on Hobatere. This was the first documented case of lions from the desert population, dispersing towards the east and joining the Etosha population. At the age of five years the two males arrived at Hobatere late in June 2005. They ousted the local male lion, took over tenure of the pride that lived on Hobatere and the Otjovasandu area of Western Etosha, and were seen mating with the lionesses on 2 July 2005. Steve Braine of Hobatere Lodge monitored their movements intensively. Xpl-19 disappeared in 2008, but Xpl-20 remained in the Hobatere Concession, using a home range of 187 km^2 (top right map).

As small cubs (middle) in 2000 [D Heinrich]
First darting in 2002
Second darting in 2003
Fourth darting in 2005
Xpl-20 in 2008 [D Braine]
Fifth darting - 24 Apr 2010

22 Apr 2010. Western Etosha. Two desert lions (Xpl-19 & 20) dispersed to western Etosha in 2005. One of the males (Xpl-20) is currently at Hobatere Lodge. His radio collar is about to expire, and an effort is underway to locate and dart him in order to fit a new radio collar.

21 Apr 2010. Beautiful scenery. The search for the remaining Obab lions and "Charlotte" - the elusive Hunkap lioness with a GPS collar - continued through breathtaking landscapes of the Kharakaub area.

20 Apr 2010. Springbok aggregations. The efforts to locate lions in the upper Obab/Barab mountains were unsuccessful. Large concentrations of springboks, including a group of roughly 800 animals, were observed on the plains south of the Hunkap tributaries. Such aggregations are seen only towards the end of good rains.

19 Apr 2010. Rocky terrain. The upper-reaches of the Obab River, crossing over to the Barab River, are being surveyed in search of Xpl-22, the missing Obab lions, and "Charlotte". The mountainous terrain is incredibly rough and the progress is slow.

18 April 2010. Hunting zebras. The two Obab lionesses were located after the darting of Xpl-45 last night. They were observed hunting zebras during the early morning.

17 Apr 2010. Fit new GPS collar. "Nina" and Xpl-45 of the Obab Pride were located in the lower Aub River. Xpl-45 was immobilised and with help from Emsie and Hannelie (Wilderness Safaries, Rhino Camp) a GPS radio collar was fitted. She recovered well from the darting and by morning the two lionesses had moved off.

16/7 Apr 2010. Move south. The high rainfall in the northern section of the study area have made work rather difficult, and there were the hazards associated with flash floods of the ephemeral rivers. Attention was therefore turned to the basalt areas of the Obab, Uniab & Agab Rivers. Large numbers of wildlife were observed during the late afternoon. Vultures pointed out where lions had killed a zebra during the night, but the lions had already moved off and could not be located.

16 Apr 2010. Floodplain lions. With the help of the satellite GPS collar, fitted to Xpl-56, the Floodplain lions were located where they had killed an oryx. Xpl-10 was still very skittish after the two dart failures.

15 Apr 2010. More rain. Rainstorms continued today, all the way down to the coast. The radio signal of "Tawny" (Xpl-38) was picked-up in the dunes south of the Hoaruseb River. But, with the river coming down in flood, a hasty retreat to the south of the Hoaruseb was necessary. It is suspected that "Tawny" has given birth to her second litter of cubs, but it will not be possible to reach the location for several weeks.


14 Apr 2010. Rain. The extreme heat of the past few days was relieved by widespread rain. Move your mouse over the bottom/middle photograph to see how the cloud formation changed in less than 15 minutes.

13 Apr 2010. More dart problems. The day was spent sat in the Cruiser near Xpl-10 and the sub-adults. It was very hot and the thermometer in the vehicle measured 44.3 deg Celsius at 14h00. At 22h15, after 21 hours of waiting, a second dart was fired at Xpl-10. The dart struck her cleanly on the left shoulder, but again failed to inject the drugs. Xpl-10 and the young lionesses moved off, but the young male, Xpl-56, presented an opportunity and was darted. The problem with the darts continued and he had to be darted twice. Both darts did not deliver the full dose and he had to be injected by hand. This particular batch of darts will now will be discarded. Xpl-56 was marked with the refurbished satellite GPS collar of "Adolf" (Xpl-3). This may only be a temporary measure, but was necessary to keep track of the Hoanib Floodplain Pride.

12 Apr 2010. Xpl-10 follow-up. After the dart failure during the night, many hours were spent regaining the trust of the lions. They calmed down surprisingly fast and there were two darting opportunities shortly after dawn, but it was decided not to take them and to invest a bit more time to secure a successful darting of Xpl10 and the unmarked sub-adult female. This will only be attempted after sunset this evening and the vehicle will remain with them for the entire day.

Xpl-10 at dawn

12 Apr 2010. Xpl-10 located. After receiving information of fresh lion tracks in the Hoanib River from Herman and Emile Visser (Wilderness Safaris), Xpl-10 and the Floodplain Pride were located, after loosing track of them in October 2009. They are all in good condition. The data from Xpl-10's GPS collar were downloaded, but disappointingly the collar failed shortly after they were last observed. This means that we do not know where they were during this long period that they could not be located. The data file will now be sent to Televilt/Followit in Sweden, with the hopes that they might be able to retrieve the location information. The disappointment, however, did not end there. After sitting patiently for 8 hours, waiting for an opportunity to dart Xpl-10, so as to remove the dysfunctional GPS collar and replace it with a new one, a dart was fired at 00h48, but it failed to inject the drugs. The lions moved off and it will now require a lot of patience before they will allow another opportunity.

11 Apr 2010. Spectacular scenery. The humidity and daytime temperatures have been high during the past week and it rained almost every night. The cloud formations during the late afternoons and the light towards sunset have been unusually beautiful.

10 Apr 2010. Hoanib Pride. During the early morning hours, after Xpl-64 had recovered from the immobilisation, the rest of the Hoanib Pride (including "Bianca", Xpl-57, Xpl-58 & "E=MC2") showed up. It turns out that they had been in the Okongwe mountains during the entire time, despite extensive searching and radio-tracking over the past three days, exemplifying how difficult it is to locate lions in the mountainous terrain.

10 Apr 2010. More on Xpl-64. The lion ID database, using vibrissae spot patterns, revealed that Xpl-64 was from the Hoanib Pride. She was born in January 2008 and her mother is most likely "Bianca" (Xpl-47).

Xpl-64 in Sep 2009
Whisker patterns - Sep 2009
Darting - April 2010
The vibrissae diagram of Xpl-64

9 Apr 2010. Xpl-64. By total chance, after following their tracks for several kilometres, a small group of sub-adult lions were spotted with binoculars from a high ridge in the Okongwe area. They were approached slowly at dusk and at 20:15 a young lioness (age: 3 years) was darted. Xpl-64 was radio-colarred and observations on the group will continue during the next few days.

8 Apr 2010. Big rain storms. With the lions moving around in mountainous terrain and extensive rain storms during the early evenings, it has been impossible to locate, follow or observe lions.

7 Apr 2010. Okongwe. The search for the Hoaruseb, Hoanib and Floodplain lions has been expanded to the Okongwe mountains. A substantial concentration of wildlife (oryx, mountain zebra & springbok) were observed in the area and a number of fresh lion tracks were spotted. The Hoaruseb male (Xpl-44) was located 15 km south of the Tomakas village. During the night he moved out of the mountains and killed a donkey, despite attempts to prevent that. There were also a large number of cattle moving freely at night, more than 12 km from the village. If cattle are not looked after by their owners and placed in safe enclosures during the night, the problem of lions killing livestock will only be solved once all the lions are dead.

Locations of Xpl-44 near Tomakas
The view from Xpl-44 towards Tomakas
Xpl-44 killed a donkey

6 Apr 2010. Xpl-3. The death of the Hoanib Male ("Adolf") in November 2009 was a tragedy. Since Xpl-3 was first radio-colarred in November 1999 (ten years of intensive monitoring), we have learnt more from him about the biology and ecology of the desert adapted lions, than from any other individual lion. The investigation into the cause of his death has finally been concluded. Xpl-3 was shot during a chance encounter on the morning of 21 November 2009 by an elderly man from a village west of Sesfontein. Xpl-3 did not kill any livestock, but the old man, having suffered many losses due to lions over the previous decades, could probably not resist the temptation and shot at the lion as it moved away from him. The lion died from the bullet wounds later that day. Lez Weintrobe wrote this moving poem about Xpl-3.

Ex pee el three
I remember thee
I remember what thee said
Lying there in the night
Not so much the words themselves
After all you couldn’t talk
But what you conveyed
By your being
By your majesty
Even as you slept
Under the brightness of a million lights
By the soft sweetness of your smell
The earthiness of your odour
Buried deep in the soles of your feet
By the hooknail in the tuft of your tail
Temporarily stilled
Though your legs were still twitching
Your lolling head scraping the sand
Eyes open, locked in
As we busied ourselves quietly
Taking what was necessary
Hardly stopping to gaze,
To be awestruck
In our ephemeral encounter
Before you reawakened.
And stumbled up, off
Collared, in touch, radiating.

As an example of the contribution that the data collected from Xpl-3 made to our understanding of lions, below are a set of photographs of his teeth at different stages of his life. Lions can be aged by the extent of tooth wear. Since the exact age of Xpl-3 was known, the rate and extent of wear of his teeth (especially the upper premolar^3 - see top & middle photo) is vital to calibrate the ageing criteria.

Age: 15 months
Age: 2.5 years
Age: 5.2 years
Age: 8.2 years
Age: 9.5 years
Age: 10.4 years

Photographs of the upper left premoler^3 of Xpl-3 at different stages of his life.

15 months
2.5 years
5.2 years
8.2 years
9.5 years
10.4 years
The darting of Xpl-3 that Lez Weintrobe experienced (above)

6 Apr 2010. Hunkap River. Recent rains have turned the Hunkap area into lush green meadows. Extensive flooding of the ephemeral river, past the Hunkap Spring and towards the dunes, left large pools of water in the riverbed. The three young Obab males were found at one of these pools. The search continues for the adult lionesses.

5 Apr 2010. Moving north. The Hunkap male was observed for more than 48 hours, He is still alone and it was decided to leave him and move further north in search of "Charlotte" - Xpl-53 and the other Obab/Hunkap lions. To see the position of Xpl-54 in yesterday's photo, move your mouse over the picture (4 April 2010, bottom left).

4 Apr 2010. Follow Hunkap male. The entire day was spent tracking the Hunkap male (Xpl-54) and searching for the other radio collared lions in the area. At the time of this update, eight hours have already been invested trying to observe Xpl-54 and, in particular, the lions that were with him last night. At sundown it was confirmed that he was in fact alone - the lioness that was seen yesterday at dusk, was gone. Can you spot the lion (Xpl-54) in the photo on the far left? The answer will be presented tomorrow.

3 Apr 2010. Hunkap lions. With the confidence of a working telemetry receiver, many hours have been spent searching for radio-collared lions between the Uniab and Hoanib rivers. A brown hyaena was spotted late morning near Terrace Bay. Rainclouds were building throughout the day and at sundown the Hunkap male (Xpl-54) was located 12 km southwest of Hunkap Spring. A lioness was spotted, silhouetted against the clouds (see photo - top right), but the rough terrain and the rain showers that followed, prevented further observations.

2 Apr 2010. Telemetry receiver. It became necessary to drive all the way down to Swakopmund to collect an old ATS telemetry receiver, which was lent to Kalahari Game Lodge for the lion introduction in 1998 (see KGL for more details). The Website Statistics have been updated for March 2010.